How to Go Beyond Your Voice to Make Your Novel Shine

Filed in Book Writing Inspiration by on July 12, 2017 • views: 1815

Book ShineWhen I first drafted “Moonlit” in 2013 (which will be republished as “Wildwood” via Parliament House Press this September), I was a first-time mother climbing out of the hole of postpartum anxiety and borderline agoraphobia.

The love and protectiveness I felt for my daughter had consumed me to the point of breathless panic attacks, because I was certain an unknown danger was present and waiting to take her from me. This fear, coupled with the lack of control I felt for the world around me, led me to create Tanzy, a no-nonsense introvert haunted and hunted by lurking shadows.

She didn’t know what they were, didn’t know what they wanted, only that they were always after her. It’s taken me five years to realize that I was describing in a fictitious, supernatural way what it felt like to be scared every moment of something I could neither see nor define.

If Only They Can Get Through Book 1, They’ll Learn to Love This Story

When I reached the end of drafting the third book in the trilogy in 2014, I looked back at the first book and saw some pretty significant holes, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was missing. I just knew something at the foundational level was wrong.

For a while I was content to let it be what it was: a first book. Sure it needed work, and I’d made cringe-worthy mistakes in both my writing and plotting, but it was okay. I felt like: well, when the reader gets to the end of the first book, they’ll realize they were reading a much deeper story the whole time, and isn’t the writing pretty?

Surely that will be enough to carry the reader from the first page to the last, and then they’ll continue with book 2 and 3, and they’re so much better… if only they can get through book 1, they’ll learn to love this story; they’ll get to the end of the trilogy and think: I get it now. I get what she was trying to do.

There was just one problem: I knew (sort of) what I’d tried to do, but I hadn’t delivered.

Book Marketing Challenges: Who Was My Story Truly Geared For?

The marketing aspects of the book also felt flat and ill-aimed to me. At book events, grandparents would pick it up, believing it a nice horse story for their ten-year-old granddaughters. To be point-blank, Wildwood/Moonlit isn’t nice or all that horsey, and certainly isn’t age appropriate for someone in elementary school.

So I took a hard look at who I thought my story was truly geared for, and realized that it wasn’t well geared toward any one market. Some concepts are too dark for younger audiences, and the characters were too naïve for older readers. I realized I had taken themes that made sense in my head and made a really off-key mash up.

What I had on my hands was one big mess.

Searching for a Publisher Willing to Take a Huge Risk

I wanted to take control of every aspect of the story, and find a publishing partner who would challenge me, push me, figure out how to untangle my knots and shine a light in the holes. This would take finding a publisher who was willing to take a huge risk:

  • a series that had been previously published not just once, but twice;
  • a publisher who could find the holes;
  • a publisher who had a vision for what the story could become with an author who had admitted she had no idea how to fix it, only that it needed fixing.

But I was game as hell to find out.

After More Rounds of Edits Than I Can Count, I Figured Out My Main Character

After the latest round of edits, my editor asked me: why does Tanzy second guess herself at every turn; why is she still questioning herself?

I had to confront the fact that I’m still questioning myself. I have a pretty good grip on the steering wheel of my thoughts most days; but there are still moments, hours, even a whole day, when my mind is a storm of questions and what-ifs, and I keep turning them over and inspecting them from all sides, desperate for an answer that quite frankly doesn’t exist.

Once I realize what I’m doing, I can let it go, and my mind resettles.

Two weeks ago, I emailed me editor and said: This story has been published twice before now; it’s been through more rounds of edits than I can count… and I just this very moment realized that Tanzy suffers from anxiety.


When My Editor Told Me: Go Back to the Beginning

Tanzy had been my “hero” of sorts. Even when she was being manipulated and tricked, there was a survivor in her that I believed and trusted.

So when my new editor with Parliament House didn’t seem to like Tanzy much on the first round of content edits, I was inclined to shut her out in favor of remaining loyal to the Tanzy who had helped me find my feet and my voice.

Saying Tanzy “saved” me is extreme, but it is not an exaggeration to say that she helped me save myself. I felt like if my editor couldn’t see the Tanzy I saw, that was her fault and not mine.

We also disagreed on the relationship between Tanzy and her mother, which is a huge part of the story line for the entire trilogy. I thought to myself:

She likes Disney movies and happily ever afters when the guy gets the girl. I like Shawshank Redemption and when the bad guy gets what’s coming to him. We’re not a good match. That’s all this is. There’s a problem with the story, sure. But it’s not Tanzy. There’s nothing wrong with Tanzy.

I didn’t touch my story for a week. I stood in my yard and frowned at the drizzly, gray sky that is ever-present in the winter months of the Pacific Northwest. I ate a lot of chocolate.

Finally, I emailed her back and explained Tanzy as I knew her, where I was coming from, why the relationship between her and her mother became what it was.

And she said: It’s not that I don’t like Tanzy, the problem is that in your story, I don’t KNOW Tanzy. If you show all these sides to Tanzy early on, I will be able to understand her. Show this, ALL of this, to your readers. Because you haven’t done that yet. Build Tanzy’s world. Show us who she was before this tragedy happens. Show us how she gets here. As it stands, you’re dropping the reader into a two mile race a mile after the starting line. Go back to the beginning.

With My Life? Finding Time to Edit Was Impossible

Even though I thought I knew Tanzy and this story inside and out, I had never considered who she was before her father dies. What was her mom like? What did their house look like? How did they talk to each other? What was in their refrigerator? What were Tanzy’s plans? What was their normal before Travis Hightower falls into a river, never to be seen again?

As I sit here and type this, I wonder if I didn’t mentally approach these questions the first time because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of who Tanzy used to be, because I detested the idea of looking back at all.

Looking back sometimes pries the lid off of the what-ifs box in my head, and then round-and-round I go. Then again, maybe I just plain didn’t know. How do you go back over the giant hole blown into the path you saw for your life, and relive the approach without knowing the hole that’s coming up ahead?

To say I became discouraged is an understatement. I have three small kids, aged 6, 2, and 1, and we live on a small horse farm. My days—at best—are full, and at their worst, resemble a six ring circus with a tent on fire. Finding time to edit was impossible.

If I set an alarm and got up early, without fail my baby did, too. He was content to sit in my lap and binge-watch Netflix. However, he was not content to play by my feet while I typed. Editing during afternoon hours, when my eldest was home from school, felt like a betrayal. I only see her for a few waking hours before the madness of bedtime routines, and then she’s gone again in the morning.

My two year old is an adorable tornado, and has entered the phase where mommy is the only acceptable help/lap/cook/reader/playmate/etc. We also just moved to Oregon from Georgia, so my network of friends, family, and babysitters are about 2,700 miles away.

Jadie & Kids Riding

Jadie and the kids go for a ride.

Tighten the Ropes, Tell Me to Give Up, Cross Your Arms, and Watch

I knew that my editor was right, and that both Tanzy and the story needed a huge, start-to-finish overhaul. Twice, I told my husband I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was rusty, tired, stretched too thin and in too many directions.

Jadie Kids Laugh

Jadie with two of her children.

He gave me the best answer anyone could: so don’t do it.

Now, Tanzy may have gotten her anxiety from me, but we are also the same in another way: throw us against the ropes and we’ll come back harder, stronger, and more determined. The best thing someone can do for me isn’t to encourage and soften and coax. It’s to tighten the ropes, tell me to give up, cross their arms, and watch.

Finally, I made the only choice I had: after the kids went to bed, I stayed up until I started falling asleep at my computer. As I neared deadline, I would drink a pot of coffee with dinner, and then edit until 4am. Afterwards, I would fall into bed in a jittery haze, approaching sleep every so often, and then bolt up when the alarm went off at 6am.

On the last night, I started hallucinating. Multiple times I saw steam rise from the tea pot on our stove, and a mouse scurry under the kitchen cabinets. Neither of those things proved to actually be there.

Finally, I Was On the Right Track

There’s a complex scene about two thirds of the way through book one that always felt like the fault line in the story instead of being the last big peak before the climax.

When I first wrote it, I couldn’t figure out how to strengthen it. With this editing team, I was able to see that what the scene needed was a stronger foundation, which we had developed during the second round of content edits.

Once I arrived at that scene again, I was able to tweak and fix it fairly easily because all of the pieces to build it were there, where they hadn’t been present and accessible before. That was a huge relief for me, and made me feel like I was finally on the right track.


Don’t Rely Too Heavily On Your Voice to Carry a Story

I have learned that I rely too heavily on my voice to carry a story.

My editor wasn’t necessarily a fan of my voice, which can be a little jilted, sarcastic, and subtle. I believe in negative space when it comes to a sentence, encouraging a reader to study the shadows of information given in hopes of discovering a little more meaning, and she seems quite the opposite.

At first I felt like this was going to be a huge problem, and then I realized it was an opportunity for me to develop my storytelling ability. I can’t change my voice, and I’m not sure I would ever want to, but I can do everything in my power to make Tanzy’s story and character so compelling that even if my editor doesn’t love the way I turn a phrase, she will still be compelled to turn the page.

If I could do that, I could reach readers two ways, and that would make for a very strong book.

This process has taught me to be grateful for supporters and fans, but to cherish your critics. They’ll make you better.

Writers, There’s Nothing Wrong with You: You Cannot Have It All

I’ve also learned that the whole adage about a working parent being able to have it all is utter crap.

How do you raise your kids, edit your book, eat, sleep, put on real clothes, nurture your marriage, tend the garden, keep your house, get horses worked (or whatever daily goal you have) without something being sacrificed?

Jadie's family.

Jadie’s family.

Saying you can “have it all” is setting yourself up for stress, frustration, disappointment, and some pretty epic meltdowns when deadlines are looming, kids are crying, you haven’t spent a single minute with your spouse, there’s a mountain of laundry and an empty refrigerator, you have no idea what you’re going to make for dinner, and you haven’t showered in three days.

If you’re anything like me, you wonder what’s wrong with you, what you could do better/faster/more, how someone different could take your life circumstances and mine more success from it. Having been there, this is my answer: there’s nothing wrong with you. You cannot have it all. You can have a lot, but it’s still going to cost you.

I’ve Learned to Set Priorities

I have learned to set priorities. My family comes first, which is a no brainer. This means my writing career will be a slower trajectory than I hoped. I have so many ideas for new stories in my head. But I have three kids at my feet, and they are changing by the moment.

My baby turned one today. My six-year-old is big enough for the big kids clothing section at Target and can read whole books. My two-year-old has just this week seemed to morph from a tubby toddler into a lanky little girl. They need me. They need me to play, to fix, to find, to watch, to show, to hug, to listen, and, above all else, to be present. I cannot be all of these things for them and be squirreled away in my office at the same time.

Little Girl Horse

There are days when Mommy HAS to work, but I try really hard to keep them to a minimum, and to inconvenience myself in place of removing myself from them. I also write a lot of notes to myself with a crayon so I don’t lose thoughts as they come, because between being tired and a constant stream of kid’s cartoons, my brain is mush by about 4:00 p.m.

The sun comes second: we don’t get a lot of sun here during the fall and winter. It rained here for the first one-hundred days of 2017—without exaggeration. So if it’s sunny, my computer stays off and we stay outside.

My husband has become very supportive, and will take the kids out of the house when he’s home so I can have half a day to buckle down and focus. I also have a publisher who understands that I am a mother with small children, and twice I have had to ask for extensions. She knows I work hard, and she’s happy to help me do my best work. The combination of a supportive family and a flexible publisher is the only way I can have a lot.

I also had to choose between horses and writing. We still own horses, and I still teach lessons, but I greatly reduced my lesson schedule, and I sold my “project” horses before they were finished. When I tried to fit both trying to train horses and trying to edit, all I got was half-done horses and weak writing. I had to make a choice.

So I kept my personal horse and my daughter’s pony, and sold the rest. It was hard, and there’s one horse in particular that I really miss, but it was the best thing I have ever done for myself, my family, and my writing.

Jadie Pony

Jadie gives the critters a little love.

This decision made me realize how important my career as an author is to me, and it was a relief to finally have a single focal point. Years from now, I may have time, energy, and head space enough for both of these passions, but right now I don’t. Plain and simple.

Writing is How I Exorcise Some Demons

I wouldn’t consider writing a spiritual practice, but it is how I exorcise some demons.

I can still fall into a pattern where I’m too inside my own head, and it can be a hard place to climb out of. It’s much easier to change the direction of my thoughts than escape them entirely.

Then again, if I’m writing a darker or more intense piece of a story, the effects of mentally diving into such a place can linger with me for the rest of the day, and I have to deliberately shake them off.

What’s Next: Something that Scares Me

The entire trilogy is being overhauled and republished, beginning with book one, now called Wildwood, this September.

I feel pretty confident the next two books in the trilogy will not require near the re-write that the first book did, but then again I’ve been surprised before.

I’m also working on a crime thriller, which takes place here in southern Oregon. This area borders on lawless. We are facing a tax levy vote this month which, if not passed, will mean we have no patrolling officers in our county. People disappear here regularly, and it goes unreported. It’s the perfect environment for someone to get away with murder.

This novel will be written in multi points of view. What scares me most is how clearly the killer’s voice comes through in my head. I do worry tackling this kind of theme will also open the door to the part of me that’s still scared of the proverbial dark, but I hope that I’ll remember I’m the puppet master here.

In the worlds I create, I get to pull the strings.

(Click here to read Jadie’s prior post on Writing and Wellness.)

* * *

JadieYoung-adult author. Equine professional. Southern gal. Especially fond of family, sunlight, and cookie dough. Jadie Jones wrote her first book in seventh grade, filling one hundred and four pages of a black and white Mead notebook. Back then she lived for two things: horses and R.L. Stine books. Fast forward nearly twenty years, and she still work with horses, and hoard books like most women her age collect shoes. Its amazing how much changes… and how much stays the same.

The dream of publishing a novel has hitch-hiked with her down every other path she’s taken (and there have been many.) Waitress, farm manager, road manager, bank teller, speech writer, retail, and more. But that need to bring pen to paper refused to quiet. Finally, in 2009, she sat down, pulled out a brand new notebook, and once again let the pictures in her head become words on paper.

Find out more about Jadie and her wok at her website, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

WildwoodWildwood: Tanzy Hightower is not crazy. At least that’s what she tells herself. She also tells herself that the shadows stalking her in the woods aren’t living, murderous beings.

On the anniversary of her father’s death, Tanzy is swept up by the woods and the shadows that took him. She quickly realizes those monsters lurking in the dark now have their sights set on her. Neither Tanzy nor life as she knows it escapes unchanged when she is introduced to a world…unseen.

Two strangers seem too willing to help her navigate her new reality: Vanessa Andrews, a doctor’s trophy wife with a southern drawl, and Lucas, a quiet, scarred man with timing that borders on either perfect or suspect. But Tanzy has secrets of her own. Desperate for answers and revenge, Tanzy must put her faith in their hands as her past comes calling and the shadows close in.

With wild blood coursing through her veins, will Tanzy’s choices shed light on the shadows of her past, or will they bring forth the darkness within her?

Available at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and with Parliament House Press.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Jadie Jones says:

    Thank you all so much for the kind words and support! I’ve learned a lot so far, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share with other writers/readers/humans. And I’m so grateful to Colleen and her commitment to exploring the shadows that creep in on the borders of wellness, so that we don’t have to stumble around in dark places alone.

  2. Simon Towns says:

    I am so glad that you finally saw the anxiety in Tanzy………..and were able to continue to polish through editing…….and stuck with it. The life that you have created can be envied and you are published………I am still working towards that. Keep in touch and keep writing.

  3. Willow says:

    This, this is beautiful. Your way with words captivates me. Can’t wait to read the trilogy!!

  4. Angela Noel says:

    What an excellent and thoroughly authentic tale of persistence and acceptance of the possible. I’m inspired by how you’ve overcome challenges and stayed true to your journey of self-discovery as you help your characters come to life. I very much enjoyed this post!